Dr. Jerome Marco took a bleacher seat at the 50-yard line of newly named Jerome M. Marco Stadium at Walt Whitman High School, where he served as principal for 29 years.
Marco’s slogan for Whitman was “Pride + Determination = Success,” and before him were many signs of the school’s recent successes. Many of the current seniors took the SAT last year, when Whitman averaged 1234, the top among county schools. The Vikings football team, undefeated throughout 2003, played their homecoming game against Quince Orchard, and at halftime, the 2003 state champion poms squad performed. Whitman’s symphonic band serenaded Marco with the “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood,” a personal favorite for a man who swears by a book entitled “The Wisdom of Fred Rogers.”
FRIDAY’S FESTIVITIES were part of a weekend Whitman dedicated to honoring Marco for his 29 years at Whitman. Throughout the preceding week and through the weekend, Whitman students, alumni, parents and staff described ways that Marco inspired the Whitman community.
Ben OuYang, now an assistant principal at Whitman, recalled accepting the position after several years as a guidance counselor at the school.
“I was scared of being an assistant principal,” OuYang recalled, and he told Marco, “I don’t want to fail you.”
Marco responded, “It’s my job to see to it that you don’t fail.”
Whitman students who received straight As on their report cards or were about to play in a championship game would receive personal handwritten notes from Marco, recalled Patricia O’Neill, vice president of the Montgomery County Board of Education.
Kate Stern, a Whitman parent, said her daughter received a personal note from Marco when she started a new student publication. Stern’s daughter still has the note on her bulletin board in college.
Whitman athletes and coaches were accustomed to seeing Marco before a big game, or on the sidelines as the game went on. Blake Maynard, a Whitman senior on the varsity football team, said a pep speech from Marco was a routine for the Vikings.
“Before every game, he came and talked to us … all about Whitman pride, how important the school is, and how important it is to keep the tradition going.”
“There were many times when he would come out and watch some or all of the game,” said David Magathan, a math teacher and athletic director at Whitman. “Baseball games, softball games, cross country meets, soccer games, he was out at all of them.”
Maynard said it wasn’t Marco’s style to be aggressive or get worried when a student was having trouble. “He’d tell you what you did wrong and how to take it. … He’s a really good guy; really an original.”
ON SUNDAY, more than 300 people met at Whitman’s theater for another tribute from speakers, including Montgomery County Councilmember Howard Denis (R-1), Board of Education Vice President Patricia O’Neill, Superintendent Jerry Weast, Quince Orchard Principal Daniel Shea and Jeff Luse, president of Whitman’s student government.
Marco’s comments followed a speech by Luse. “I never had any fear about getting a Whitman student up to speak, because they were never very good at bragging about their own accomplishments,” Marco said.
When it was Marco’s turn to speak, he had to pause once, and he’d warned the audience it might happen. “That’s the old Italian blood coming out — I’m a very emotional guy,” Marco said.
“I always thought that kids could do more than we could ask them to do,” Marco said. “I always asked my staff to push, push, push.”
Marco’s speech came a month after the release of statistics showing Whitman had the highest SAT average (1234) of all Montgomery County public high schools, and Montgomery County schools had the highest average in the United States.
Students, Marco said, consistently met the challenges he and Whitman’s staff set for them. “I always wondered when the balloon was going to burst, but it kept taking more air,” he said.
JERRY MARCO IN THEIR OWN WORDS
“He’ll never be replaced.”
—Blake Maynard, Whitman '05
“He was a pretty big part of the students’ lives. … Just being here for three [of Marco’s] years was a blessing.”
—Jeff Luse, Whitman ‘05, student government president
“I said to Dr. Marco, ‘I’m going to try to do well for you because you gave me a chance.’ Other people wouldn’t even interview me, so I owe a lot to him.”
—Dean Swink, Whitman physical education teacher and varsity football coach
“Academics were always first, and he did whatever he could to produce the atmosphere for us to succeed.”
“There were many times when he would come out and watch some or all of the game. … Baseball games, softball games, cross country meets, soccer games, he was out at all of them.”
“During the ‘70s, which was a bad time for education … he ran two schools. He weathered it all in a challenging classroom atmosphere.”
—Sam DeBone, retired Whitman physical education teacher and soccer coach
“Everybody was treated equally — there were no second-class [Whitman coaches]. Everybody respected each other's programs.”
“He has given some people a second chance at their careers.”
“He was informally known as 'The Godfather' of county administrators.”
—Michael Zarchin, Pyle Middle School Principal
“There can be no doubt that his vision is the reason why the school is the remarkable place that it is today.”
—Lafe Solomon, former Whitman PTSA president
“I often wondered, does he have a cot in the building?”
—Patricia O’Neill, Board of Education
“Jerry was one of the guiding forces in getting the new Whitman built.”
“You could just tell that he was a great man to work for [and] a kind man.”
—Ben OuYang, Whitman assistant principal
“He was sort of an ideal administrator. … When I went to him with my hand out, he always put money in it.”
—Susan Wildstrom, Whitman mathematics department
“When there were conflicts, he always wanted to hear our sides of the issue. … For a new teacher, it’s nice to have an administrator who is a defender of students.”
— Susan Wildstrom
“He was easy to talk to and his door was always open. [In the computer lab] I would pop up and see him talking to a bunch of kids.”
— Laurie Friedman, Whitman computer science teacher
“Everyone in this community should be proud, not only of this school, but of this man’s legacy.”
—Jerry Weast, superintendent, Montgomery County Public Schools
“You never, ever said that you were too busy for anyone. How did you manage all this, Jerry?”
“I was always impressed that Jerry was never on automatic pilot.”
—Deena Levine, principal, Poolesville High School
“As a fledgling administrator, he sent me a lovely handwritten note.”
—Durinda Anderson, principal, Rockville High Shoool
“Now go, take care of yourself, take care of your family. [As Marco himself says,] ‘Your desk will survive your absence.’”
—Daniel Shea, principal, Quince Orchard High School
JERRY MARCO IN HIS OWN WORDS
“It’s my job to see to it that you don’t fail.”
“I always thought that kids could do more than we could ask them to do. … I always asked my staff to push, push, push.”
“[Whitman students] were never very good at bragging about their own accomplishments.”
“We always did it. Not me, but we.”
“I was glad to see such a nice turnout. … I’m just so humbled by everything.”
“With some kids, you need to back off a little bit; with others, you need to push.”
“Every spring we were burying a kid. After 20 years, that was enough. … We never had a death after [we implemented a zero-tolerance policy at Whitman]. You can saw what you want, but the proof is in the statistics.”
“I’m just going to take it easy, one day at a time.”
“[Students today] know the importance of an education… and they want to take the next step.”
“I might have gone another 20 years. … I enjoyed what I did. I never had any qualms about getting up every day and going to work.”
“I felt very proud of every kid that graduated from Whitman. … They came back every now and then and bring their children.”
“I had a little apprehension [about retiring]. There was no going back.”
“I’m in pretty good shape for the state I’m in.”
“I hope I made a difference.”
47 YEARS OF EDUCATING
Marco takes his first job in education as a teacher in Pennsylvania.
Marco takes his fist job teaching in Montgomery County as a math teacher at Wheaton High School.
Walt Whitman High School opens with Darryl Shaw as principal with 1,418 students.
Marco moves to Kennedy High School as a counselor.
Marco moves to Winston Churchill High School as assistant principal.
Marco moves to Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School as principal.
Whitman’s enrollment increases to 2,283.
Marco moves to Whitman High School as principal.
1,200-seat auditorium added to Whitman.
Jan. 18, 1991
Whitman moves into its current building; only the auditorium of the old building was retained.
2003-2004 School Year
Whitman enrollment, 1,876.
June 30, 2004
Marco retires from the Montgomery County Public School System.
Oct. 1 and Oct. 3, 2004
Whitman dedicates Jerome M. Marco Stadium and honors Marco in a ceremony at the school auditorium during homecoming weekend.
JEROME M. MARCO EXCELLENCE IN LEADERSHIP AWARD
The Jerome M. Marco Excellence in Leadership Award is an award that recognizes students who demonstrate exemplary leadership skills while maintaining a solid record of academic achievement. Each year, one graduating senior boy and one girl will receive a scholarship. The amount of the award will be determined in January after the funds have been raised.
This scholarship honors Dr. Marco’s contributions to the school, and continues to encourage young leaders at Walt Whitman High School.
Checks can be made to the Walt Whitman Educational Foundation. Send contributions to: Walt Whitman SGA, 7100 Whittier Blvd., Bethesda MD 20817.